History tour slider
History 2015-03-05T16:26:14+00:00


To find out more read:

Sheffield Botanical Gardens:
People, Plants & Pavilions.
By R. Alison Hunter, 2007

Published by the Friends of the Botanical Gardens (FOBS).
ISBN 978-0-9556385-0-3.
36pp, full colour. Price £4.95

Available at the Gatehouse Giftshop or by post (+£1 p&p).
For details – email: illustrator@aditlevel.co.uk

A Brief Summary

In 1833 the Sheffield Botanical and Horticultural Society was formed to promote both healthy
recreation and self-education, through the development of a botanical garden. [Where does this statement come from? – admission was limited to proprietors and subscribers] A period of fundraising followed and the land was purchased. In 1834, the Society appointed Robert Marnock, gardener of Bretton Hall, Wakefield (now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), to design the Gardens and act as their first Curator. He laid out the Gardens in the then highly fashionable Gardenesque style, where each plant was displayed to perfection in scattered plantings. The Gardens were finally opened on the 29th and 30th June, and 4th and 5th July, 1836, when more than 12,000 people visited. The Gardens were only open to the general public on four Gala days per year; otherwise admission was limited to shareholders and annual subscribers.

In 1844, financial problems led to the failure of the first society but the Gardens wererescued with the formation of a second society (also known as the Sheffield Botanical and Horticultural Society). The conservatories were extended, a tea pavilion and the present Curator’s House were constructed within the succeeding decade. A period of steady development and growing international renown followed for the next 30 years.

In 1897, falling income, competition from the new free city parks and residential development in the area meant that the Gardens were in danger again. Fortunately, the Sheffield Town Trust came to the rescue and saved the Gardens for the city in 1898. It was then that free admission was introduced and continues today. Demolition of unsafe buildings was necessary and only the conservatory domes were repaired. The Gardens thrived until World War II, when extensive damage left the Sheffield Town Trust unable to afford the repairs and restoration required.

In 1951, the Sheffield Town Trust offered the Gardens to the Sheffield City Council for a peppercorn rent. With the aid of a grant from the War Damage Commission, the Council was able to instigate repairs to the domes, creating an Aviary and an Aquarium, and restoring the Gardens to their former glory. However, a downturn in the economy during the 1980s meant a severe reduction in funding and once again the Gardens were on their way to dereliction.

In 1984, the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield (FOBS) was established as a group providing education for the public and supporting the Gardens. Practical volunteer work to help staff maintain the Gardens started in 1993.

In 1996, the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust was formed and, in partnership with the Sheffield Town Trust, the City Council, the Landscape Department at Sheffield University and FOBS, was successful in obtaining a Heritage Lottery grant. Eight years of committed fundraising mean that the three phases of restoration have now been completed and the Gardens are once more magnificent. Future plans emphasise the development of educational facilities.


The Heritage Lottery Fund announced its Urban Parks Programme in January 1996. Soon afterwards, an organisation known as the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Partnership was formed to produce a bid for the Gardens. The Gardens were awarded a grant of £5.06 million, which was to be matched by £1.22 million raised locally and £0.41 million of work in kind. At that time Sheffield Botanical Gardens was the only public open space in the country where the voluntary sector had raised more than £1 million in matched funding. The work was finished in November 2005, at a cost of approximately £6.69 million.

The project was designed to achieve the repair, restoration and regeneration of the both the Gardens and associated buildings and features. A strategy was adopted to restore the Gardens to their late 19th century condition, reconstructing the spirit of the layout of that period, with its design intention, whilst at the same time adapting to modern requirements.

The aim of the project was to continue to provide free access, to develop and promote the role of the Gardens as a “flagship” of horticultural excellence and education at local, regional and national levels and to reinvest any income generated back into the project as part of the future Business Plan.

The Gardens’ staff and FOBS volunteers continue to develop the plantings throughout the Gardens. In the future, additional projects will be undertaken to further enhance the Gardens as a centre of horticultural excellence.

Gardenesque Style

The Gardenesque style of garden design evolved during the 1820’s from Humphrey Repton’s Picturesque style.

The main characteristic of this style is that all the trees, shrubs and plants are positioned and managed in such a way that each plant can be displayed to its full potential in scattered planting. The approach involved the creation of small scale landscapes to promote beauty, variety and mystery.

Many of the features, which distinguished this design style such as winding paths, dotted island beds, expanses of grass, and tree-planted mounds, can still be seen. It was Robert Marnock, their designer and first curator, who perfected the style when he laid them out in 1836.

The Sheffield Botanical Gardens are still one of the best Gardenesque landscapes in Britain.

Robert Marnock (1800 – 1889)

Robert Marnock was one of the outstanding horticulturalists and garden designers of the 19th century and was considered by his contemporaries to be the best exponent of the gardenesque school of landscape gardening.

Before he came to Sheffield, Marnock worked as the head gardener in Bretton Hall (now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), Wakefield. He was appointed by the Sheffield Botanical and Horticultural Society in 1834 to design and lay out the Botanical Gardens, at an annual salary of £100. Marnock designed the Botanical Gardens in the then highly fashionable Gardenesque style. He became the first Curator of the Gardens in 1836.

In 1840, Marnock moved on to lay out the Gardens of the Royal Botanic Society of London in Regent’s Park and was appointed as the Gardens’ Curator on the advice of J.C. Loudon. He left this post in 1869 but continued to practise in his profession as a landscape gardener until 1879. There are some other Robert Marnock Gardens which can be visited.

“Mr Marnock has evidently an excellent taste in landscape gardening, and may be regarded, in this point of view, as a valuable acquisition to the part of the country in which he is situated”

(J.C. Loudon, 1839, after his visit to the Botanical Gardens.)